I bought Topaz Adjust 4 quite a while ago for a bit of extra punch to my images. After going through the bow-wave of mad editing, I have started to use this plug-in with a little more restraint and this post is about techniques and ideas to use some of the tools within the plugin for less “dramatic” effects. This post also really relates to version 4. I’ve not really looked at Topaz Adjust 5, but if you’re thinking of buying it, it’s likely to be better than 4 and these ideas and techniques can be used no matter what the version. One thing that’s common to both this and BW Effects, is that when you apply the filter effect in Photoshop, it doesn’t add it as a new layer. I find it to be good practise to duplicate your existing layers (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) or if you’re just working on one layer, duplicate that with CTRL+J. This allows you to non-destructively work with just the Topaz Adjust layer on its own.

The Topaz Adjust (4) workspace

The Topaz Adjust (4) workspace

Anyway, lets take a look at the UI in a bit more detail. If you’re used to the Topaz interface, then this will seem quite straightforward. Detailed controls over to the right, presets to the left. In the middle is your edited image, and left clicking on it will bring up your original image overlaid. As with BW Effects, the presets you choose on the left really just modify all the sliders to the right, so there is no “trick” to this. As you can see, I have added a few presets of my own as well as downloaded some, and these just appear at the bottom of the preset list. Also, it’s always worth doing an internet search for more presets!

Topaz Adjust Presets

The gallery below shows before and after comparisons with a handful of presets. I’m not sure if this has changed in version 5, but these presets are quite severe. When viewing the gallery, if it’s not obvious, the “original” file is the one with the red highlights in it. Mobile phone viewers may struggle with the gallery as it’s forced set to 1,000px wide to allow the detail to show through. I think it does a good job though of illustrating how some of these effects are quite strong. As an example though, they serve their purpose.

 

 

Each of the Presets can be adjusted with the sliders on the right, and there are no real “right” ways of doing anything. Version 5 allows one to layer adjustments on top of one another which is a really great feature. Prior to that, I would generally make duplicate layers in Photoshop and just apply a new preset to each one. Don’t be frightened about over-cooking your image with this plug-in. If you apply it as a filter to its own layer in Photoshop, you can control the opacity of it later on. Lastly, the plug-in can add a significant amount of noise to an image. As you can see from this example, it’s well worth using the de-noise function within the plug-in as a “last step” before you confirm any changes back to PS.


Keeping Things Real

Once you have your image back in Photoshop, you can really begin to manipulate the effects. If you have made sure that your Topaz Adjusted image is a layer in its own right, you can alter the opacity of it to lessen the effect. You can also mask off certain areas. This is where a deft touch, and an eye for “not overdoing it” can really help. As you can see in the example below, I have added quite a heavily processed Topaz layer on top of my original image, but by reducing the opacity and masking out certain areas, the effect has been dramatically lessened.



All in all, the Topaz Adjust plug-in is a great tool for adding a little punch to your images with a little finesse. You can find out more, and see other tutorials on the Topaz site here.

As always – thanks for reading! And if you’re interested in the slider I used to show the before and after images, it was a paid-for version from CodeCanyon here. There are free versions of this, but the support is not great and I struggled to get it working in Chrome despite various suggestions for a fix. Just search “BeforeAfter plugin” for more information.

Ian.

Posted by: In: Computers, Full Versions, Software 23 Jan 2013 2 comments Tags: , ,

Way back a while, I talked about how you could set up your own website using WordPress. I stopped at the part where you’ve got WordPress installed and left it there.

This is a follow up post to that, so if you need to find out how to install WordPress, or how to go about getting setup with a domain name and hosting then you need to read this first.

WordPress: Posts and Pages

WordPress is made up of Posts and Pages. Both are designed so that you can put galleries on them, pictures, videos, text and many other things, but they really differ in a few aspects.

Pages are static parts of your website. Their content rarely changes. Pages like “About Me” or “Contact Me” are easy examples of Pages. Pages can easily be linked from drop down menus. As a photographer, a gallery would likely be a Page with a Gallery embedded in it. Or it might be a Page with four galleries embedded in it that link off to four other Pages that go into great detail about each gallery. A Home page is another example of a Page. It might have a greeting on it, a flashy photo gallery, and an excerpt from your blog.

Posts are dynamic pages on your website. They are designed to roll on and off your site. “Latest News”, or “My Blog” are examples of Post type pages. “Latest Posts” for example might show the last four posts you put up. Posts are used generally when you have content that is being added every day. Posts generally have such things automatically embedded in them like “This post was published on x date by y”.

That is not to say that you can’t have Posts as Pages, or Pages as Posts. This is just a general definition here for the new user to WordPress.

Beyond that, and having read through the WordPress help files there’s not a lot more I can add other than get cracking! The WordPress Codex is an excellent resource if you’re just starting out, but here are a few more tips that I would have liked when I got going…

Site Framework

Before you begin, it’s always worth knowing what you want from your site. Here are some examples…

A Vanity Site

A “vanity” site is simply a bit of your personal space on the web. You’re not trying to sell your images or photographic services (wedding photographer for example), you just want a bit of “you” on the web. Maybe it will be part blog, part photographic showcase. You don’t care too much about Google search rankings, you don’t need a shop front to sell your images. You might have a link to another site that might sell images for you (stock image sites for example, or something like 500px or RedBubble). You probably want a connection to Facebook and/or Twitter to interlink your online identity. You can more than capably manage with WordPress and your own tinkering ability. You’ll have a mix of Posts, pages and Galleries.

A Working Photographer Site

Photography is your living (or maybe it’s about to be!) and you need a site that showcases your work as well as giving details for people to contact you. It’s likely that you want heavy integration with social networking and you want to be high up on the Google search rankings. Other search engine rankings are also a concern. Blogging is something you probably only want to do to keep traffic coming to your site, and to keep your search engine rankings high. Achieving all this is possible on your own, but it requires a fair bit of work to keep on top of. You’ll need to do research on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) to keep your site ranking high.

An Image Selling Site

You want to sell your images. Your site is likely to be image heavy with lots of galleries and will probably need an online shop to allow customers to buy prints of your work. You may want to put the “purchase” point on someone else’s shoulders (see 500px and/orRedbubble above) or may decide to go “halfway” and use a site builder that specialises in selling images (such as the excellent Photium). You may just decide to shoot stock photos. Your blog may likely be just a “Latest News” feed to let customers know you’ve added more images.

A Blog Site

A blog site is more about your writing skills than photography. You want to show some images (and may have a separate vanity site like me) but this site is mainly about the writing. You’re likely to have lots of Post pages but not many “Page” pages.

One way of putting this all together would be to use some software to plan things out. A very simple way of doing this would be to use something like Text 2 Mindmap (free) to draw a quick plan of how the pages will all link together. A very quick example shown below…

Text2MindMap (1)

 

Once you have an idea what you want the site to do for you, and you have a rough plan of how it’s all going to sit together, you can start to think about appearance. But before we go there, let’s take a quick look at some useful plugins.

Plugins

Plugins are little bits of software that add functionality to your site. Want to add a Flickr feed like I have in the footer of this site? Want to see who’s visiting your site and where they come from? Worried about spam comments cluttering up your blog? How about a three dimensional tag cloud?

Installing a plugin from inside WordPress is extremely easy. Just navigate to the Plugin menu on the left, click on “Add Plugin” at the top of the screen and then do a search for what you’re looking for. Here are some “essential” ones to get started…

Jetpack : For me, it’s the stats and the social networking bits of Jetpack that sell it (it is free!) but as you can see from the WordPress site, there’s a lot of goodies available here.

WordPress SEO : This will add Search Engine Optimisation functionality to your pages, allowing you to describe to the search engine just what your page is all about. Every Post/Page should have a drop down box allowing you to add search engine friendly descriptions, terms and keywords to your content.

Google Analyticator : You need a Google Analytics account for this, but when you add your tracking code to your website, it allows Google to start to build up some comprehensive stats surrounding visitors to your site. To see these stats (which are more detailed than Jetpack) you need to log on to your Analytics account.

Bulletproof Security : This adds a degree of security to your website and ensures that you are better protected against hacking and unauthorised messing about with your WordPress installation.

Askimet : If you intend to allow comments on your blog, you might want to check that what people are saying is legitimate. Some bots and humans will go around blog sites and just post a comment in order to leave a link to their site in your comment. This potentially increases web traffic to their site and their links may not be something you want on your site. If you decide to pre-approve all comments, you will quickly find that as your site becomes more popular, these bots will visit more and more often, vastly increasing your housekeeping. Askimet checks all comments against its database and if it looks like spam, it will automatically move it out of the way – giving you the time to moderate comments that are written specifically for your blog.

Appearance

Once you’ve got the basic plugins sorted, and a map of the pages you want to have, it’s then best to look for a nice theme for your site. A theme is basically a collection of scripts that tell the web browser how to display your content. These scripts are easy to find and hard to understand if you’re not familiar with the language. Fortunately, there are some very talented scripters out there who have written some very swanky looking themes.

There are several ways to get hold of themes for your site.

1. Search for “free wordpress themes” in your favourite search engine. This will throw up a lot of results and will require a lot of work to dig through the chaff to find your wheat. Free themes are great for adding a bit of style to a site for no additional cost.

2. Use a WordPress themebuilder tool. This usually provides a front end user interface so you can build your theme without knowing any code. these tools are often paid for software, although it is possible to download free trials to see if it’s for you. There are many out there – just search for “WordPress Theme Builder”. Be sure to read the fine print though as some reviews indicate that they are not perfect.

3. Buy a theme. Some sites (for example Theme Forest) allow you to purchase themes for a one off fee. Searching for “just the right” theme can be a pain and there are several things to bear in mind when buying an “off the shelf” theme. It can be easy to be swayed by flashy animated things when looking at demos, however the ones that you browse through have been built to show off that particular theme. The ease with which you can make your site look like this is directly proportional to the quality of the documentation and the “user friendliness” of the back end as well as your bravery in modifying other people’s code. I have downloaded a few premium themes over time and intend to review those and some others in a follow up post.

WordPress Content

Lastly, content is the key to your site. If you want people to find you, you need to have something to allow them to find you if they are searching the internet. Search engines – like Google – will trawl web pages and pull off what they think is relevant information. This information is ranked, and your site is catalogued ready to be displayed when someone types something relevant to you in the search bar. People who link to your content increase this ranking (other people find you interesting enough to link to). Making your content search engine friendly is an art form in itself and a full time job to some people. But how can you compete with this?

The simple answer is that you don’t – but you do use relevant words in your articles. If you’re that interested, you could buy a book on SEO, or hire someone to improve your website, and if your website is your main source of income you may have to do this. Writing unique content though will get you through if you write articles that people find interesting.

Some tips from me:

  • DO Use headings to break up your content into smaller articles, much like you would sections of a document, or chapters of a book.
  • DO “bolden” important content.
  • If your site is mainly images, make sure you use all the information available in the Caption/Alt Text/Description boxes. These are considered “content”.
  • Think about what someone might use to search for your article. Use those words in the article itself.
  • DON’T copy and rehash other people’s work.
  • DO consider different ways of getting your article out into the world. Social buttons (Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc.) are there for a reason. Not only do they create links back to your site, but they raise visibility of your article to others.

Content is what drives people to your site.

Have a good week!

Ian.

Posted by: In: Computers 08 Sep 2011 1 comment Tags: , , ,

So you want your own website, do you?

Why?

Seriously. That is the very first question you have to ask yourself before you begin. Why do you want a website? What do you want to achieve? Without knowing where you are trying to get to, you stand a poor chance of getting there. It sounds stupid, but it isn’t. Once you have a firm idea of what it is you’re trying to achieve, you can get cracking.

I like to tinker. I like to be in control. So I do it myself – and so can you!

A couple of years ago, I went on a course at college to learn how to build a website. I learnt a bit of code, I had a play on Dreamweaver, and then I sat down and realised I didn’t want to spend my life tweaking a website. I like to write, and I like to take photos. I looked at WordPress – a free, open source blogging platform. And here’s how I did it.

Finding The Right Domain Name

A website name is not the be all and end all of everything. It’s a lot about brand these days. Look at some of the biggest brands out there. Orange, O2, Red Bull. Do their names say anything about what they do? Nope. Do you know what they do? Probably.

Having a memorable website name always helps – it’s not always easy to remember the full URL of a website, so something which sticks in the mind is a bonus. For example, you’re unlikely to remember the extension of a URL (the .co.uk or .com or .org), but simply saying to someone, “Just Google Shuttercount and you’ll find the site” will allow visitors to find you straight away.

So if you’re unsure, how do you know what name to use? That’s where Google Adwords comes in. Set up an account with them (which is free), and you’re presented with the following UI

Screenshot of the Adwords menu

Go to the Keyword Tool as shown above, and enter a keyword. In my example, I entered “Event Photography”. Now set aside about an hour to browse the results. I say that, because this tool is very absorbing once you get going. The bizarre phrases people search for always amuse me. You can sort the columns by the keywords themselves, as well as the number of searches made against a particular word.

Screenshot of an Adwords search result

By playing with search terms, you can have an idea of what sort of names you could use that would be relevant to your site. Ideally if you want people to find your site through search engines, you will want at the very least to have a domain name that reflects a little bit about what you do. This is not essential. Getting your site to rank highly in Google searches is an art form. Indeed, a lot of people make a lot of money getting sites onto page 1 of Google’s search results. If it was all about the domain name, then they’d be out of work!

Whilst you’re doing this, open another internet window with a site that allows you to buy domain names. I bought my domain name from 123-reg. Their website is clear and easy to navigate, and it’s quick and easy to search for domain names. When you get an idea, type it into the Domain Name vendors site and see what’s available. Usually, you’ll get a list like this.

A screenshot of doman name search results

In most cases, you’ll be able to get a version of your name with a suffix (.co.uk, .com, .org etc) that’s available. The next question is “Is the name more important, or is it the suffix?” Do you want a .co.uk address more than you want greenbubble? Or do you want the .com address? Or are you happy with .me? I’m not sure what the latest rumours are regarding how important the suffix is, but if you’re reading this, chances are you are starting on your web-presence road. Go with what you like. From the example above, you can see how the more common extensions are taken, and the less common ones (.tv, .uk.com etc) aren’t. Have a look at the site that is taken. If it’s a massive site with a huge web presence, having the same name (with a different suffix) will get you caught up in all their traffic. And unless you’re an expert, you’ll always be in their shadow.

When you’ve settled on a name, or if you’re like me, and have a few ideas, grab a few suffixes. Fill your shopping basket by checking the tick boxes. If you end up with a huge list – don’t worry too much. Brainstorm a few names, then go through your shopping basket and just remove the ones you don’t like. Within a short period of time, they’re yours. Well done! Now what?

Finding A Good Domain Host

So you have a name. What happens if you type it in on the browser address bar?

It’ll go to a landing page at the company where you bought the domain name. Probably, that company has put ads on there. They have basically “pointed” internet traffic to that name at a one page website that has ads on it. You need to get that traffic pointed at your hosting space.

Hosting is different to domain names. The two are completely separate. Buying a domain name is a bit like joining the library. Your domain name is your library card, but you’re not forced to go back to the same library to use it. You can use that card anywhere (within county boundaries – but this is an analogy!).

You can usually get hosting from the same place you get your domain name. I wouldn’t recommend it, but some people swear by it. If you do go down this road, it’s likely the Domain Name company will point your name to your hosting account for you. Job done. If you go with someone else for hosting, all you need to do, is change the DNS setting at your domain name company website. This may sound complicated, but it isn’t. In fact, if you Google “how to point my 123reg domain name to xxx” (where xxx is your hosting service) chances are you’ll find a way. What you are basically doing is this: When someone types your web address into a browser, the internet knows that your name is registered with (for example) 123reg. So off goes the query to 123reg saying “where is this website?”. If your site is hosted by 123reg, they reply saying “It’s here!” and the page is served up. If it’s hosted elsewhere, you need to make a change at 123reg saying “if someone comes to you looking for my website, point them here…” That’s it.

So why would you not have your domain names and hosting under one roof?

Check the internet!

There are a LOT of people who have problems moving their hosting if their needs change. Let’s say the hosting company gets too expensive? Let’s say you want a subdomain, but your current host doesn’t provide them? Let’s say their customer service is really bad and you want to move! If you have a complaint and it isn’t resolved, the only way I know to hurt the company is to stop paying. So guess what happens to your domain traffic if you stop paying! Usually – account blocked. So now, not only is your access to your site blocked, but you can’t access your Domain Provider to point your domain name somewhere else.

If you are hosting with someone else, and you have problems, you can set up the hosting somewhere else, switch your domain name to point at the new site and you’re still up and running. If they shut off your hosting, your site is still live.

So, if you choose to have a separate hosting account, you may have to remember 2 logons and passwords. You may have to search the internet to find out how to point your Domain Name somewhere else, but you’ll figure it out. In about 5 minutes. Maybe less.

So, with that out of the way, how do you choose a host?

For me, I knew I wanted WordPress. I’d run it before, and I hated having to upload stuff to the host, I hated having to go through complex WordPress updates – in fact, I hated the complexity of it all. Then someone told me about cPanel.

I won’t go into this in detail right now. Suffice to say that cPanel makes managing your hosting a complete breeze. So if you’re planning to have WordPress, I would seriously recommend choosing a host that offers cPanel.

When choosing a host, there are going to be a lot of different factors. All of these depend on what it is you want out of your website. Most hosts offer priced packages based on the following:

  • How much hard drive space they give you (This is like your computer hard drive)
  • How much bandwidth you are going to use (This is in terms of people surfing your site downloading stuff. This could be just pages of text, in which case your bandwidth is likely to be low, or you could be allowing people to download full rez images, in which case it may be high)
  • How much you are prepared to pay up front (Pay for 2 years get a discount for example)
  • How many websites you can have (You may want to have multiple websites with different domain names)

Your requirements are likely to be wildly different depending on what your site is trying to achieve. I can’t help you choose the right provider. What I can do is say that this site is hosted by Vidahost. I chose them because:

  • They were value for money in terms of disk space and bandwidth
  • They allow multiple websites on a single hosting. My wife and daughters can have their own sites now without me having to buy anything else (apart from domain names!)
  • They have cPanel
  • Their customer care seems very good
  • They are UK based

This last bit is important. Your website is sitting on your host’s computers (servers). When someone types in your address, the packets that make up your website need to be delivered to them. If my hosting is in Australia and my readers are in the UK, it’s physically further for those packets to go, hence the page may take a while to open. We’re only talking about a second at most, but that can be important. Lastly, if I have any problems, I’m calling someone in the UK.

So for £30/year I get up to 6 websites, 2Gb disk space and 25Gb downloaded data per month. For me, with a blog based website, and images saved for web format (i.e. much smaller in filesizes than a huge RAW file) this suits me perfectly. I spoke to customer care about what happens if I exceed things etc, and they were very helpful. I find this is a good way to evaluate customer service before you buy. Ask some questions – even daft ones. The best, is “How do I point my domain traffic to you?” You’ll need to know that!

Once you decide on a host, you’ll likely get an email with a username, password, and all the information you need to get going. I just checked my email, and it even tells you where to point your domain name to. Bonus.

If you do decide to use Vidahost, they allow me to offer a 10% hosting discount. Use the code “shuttercount” if you decide to take them up. They have some great user forums too!

How To Navigate Your Hosting – cPanel Explained

Still with me? Jolly good!

Before I shut up for now, let’s get WordPress installed.

Your provider should also give you a cPanel logon. It may be the same as your hosting logon – it may be different. It’s a good time at this point to get yourself sorted out with usernames and passwords. You’re going to have a few. Good security would be to have different usernames and passwords for each system, but I work in IT and I know what most people do. One username – one password. If you do go down this road, at least choose something different from your bank logon, your gmail accounts etc etc.

When you enter cPanel, you’ll get a screen a bit like this. You should be able to access cPanel either through your Hosts web pages, or have a dedicated link.

A screenshot showing the cPanel screen

First: down the left hand side, you can see your disk space and your bandwidth use. Keep an eye on this over time. The next bit you will use a lot is the “File Manager”. Click it. It won’t break.

A screenshot of the cPanel File Manager interface

This is a slightly different looking interface to your “My Computer” file structure. This is how you upload/download files to your site. Yep. You don’t need ftp. If you don’t know what that is – smile. You don’t really need to know… Yet…

Your hosting provider should send you instructions on where to put stuff. But all I need to know, is that I put anything I want on my website in the public_html folder. Realistically – once you get WordPress up and running, you won’t need this screen. WordPress can manage uploads for you and puts them all in the right place.

So how do you get WordPress running?

Close the file manager window and scroll down your cPanel. You should see an icon called “Softaculous”. Click it.

A screenshot showing the Softaculous icon

You then get a window open with a big list of all sorts of things. Feel free to have a look at the other stuff. Google will likely be your friend here. To install WordPress, open the Blogs folder (top left) and you can see WordPress. Click that. Then click the “Install” tab.

A screenshot of the WordPress install screen

There is very little you should need to alter here. Leave the installation directory blank. If you’re messing around with add-on or subdomains, this is not the tutorial for you. I’m assuming one site, on one domain name with one installation of WordPress. Your Site Name and Site Description can be changed later within WordPress, so don’t worry about this right now. Change it if you’re feeling daring though.

Change your admin username and password. Do not forget this. Seriously. Don’t.

If you want to put your personal email in the box so you get a notification, that’s fine. Click install.

It’s done.

If you type your web address in now, it should take you to the basic WordPress landing page. You can log in with your Admin username & password.

You now have a WordPress site on the world wide web with your very own URL. Congratulations!

My next tutorial will walk through the basics of WordPress. I’m too tired right now!

Bye!